Rugby Championship preview: Los Pumas to catch Wallabies cold in Mendoza

Date published: August 5 2022 - Dylan Coetzee

The Rugby Championship is serving up a full house of blockbuster games this weekend that concludes with an enticing clash in Mendoza between Los Pumas and the Wallabies.

Argentina head coach Michael Cheika will face off against the country of his birth and his old team for the first time since taking over the passionate Los Pumas, adding to the already exciting battle.

Cheika‘s men come off a gutsy series win over Scotland in July, where Emiliano Boffelli put his name in lights with late heroics. Argentina were far more organised and suddenly looked like a team on the rise as the Australian seems to be cooking something special in South America.

The Wallabies meanwhile lost their series against England but looked excellent in patches. However, as they learned, patches do not win matches. Coach Dave Rennie‘s influence has started to show in Australia’s structural identity and look like they may fire soon. However, injury has plagued the Wallabies, with superstar Samu Kerevi the latest to be ruled out.

Rennie would have preferred a home game to start the southern hemisphere’s showpiece competition and will be wary of a powerful charge from Argentina. However, discipline has been an age-old issue for Los Pumas, and that will need to be in focus for Cheika’s men.

It all sets up for a classic Test match where Argentina will be determined to catch their opponents cold as Cheika will know that this could be the golden opportunity to snatch a win off his compatriots.

Last time they met

An Andrew Kellaway hat-trick proved decisive in the last clash between the two teams as the Wallabies triumphed 32-17 over a spirited Argentina side. The game began with measured starts from both teams before poor discipline from Los Pumas resulted in a Tomas Lavanini yellow card and a Folau Fainga’a try. A few minutes later, Kellaway coasted over for his first try after being played in by a beautiful pass from Rob Valetini, resulting in a 15-3 lead at half-time. The Wallabies started the second stanza very well as Kerevi crashed over soon within five minutes before Kellaway bagged his second after a good run out wide. Just before the hour mark, the robust Len Ikitau showed his skills as he handed Kellaway his hat-trick try after attracting multiple defenders. Los Pumas were not willing to lie down as debutant Thomas Gallo crashed over for a brace of tries, ultimately a consolation as the Wallabies were the winners at full-time.

What they said

Cheika heaped praise on opposition wing Marika Koroibete and claimed he is “one of the best” earlier this week as he recalled their time working together in Australia.

“I know the opposition coach isn’t supposed to say this but he is a bloody legend,” he told the Herald.

“He puts his heart out on the field, the effort he makes. He knows it won’t mean anything on game day – we have a good relationship obviously – but you have to acknowledge the best, and he is one of the best.”

The tactician also commended Rennie for the job he is doing with the Wallabies and believes they will have confidence going into the Mendoza clash.

“Coach Rennie is doing a good job with them, and I think they’ll come here – and they probably won’t say this – but I think they’ll be fairly confident, off the back of what they did against England and the competitiveness they had in that series.”

Wallabies outside back Tom Wright rued poor execution against England and revealed some “harsh conversations” in the build-up to the Argentina clash.

“We wanted to be a whole lot better in certain areas of our game, We were pretty disappointed, we had a plan to go out there to do specific things (against England) game-plan wise and we weren’t able to execute and died wondering ‘would that have worked,” he said.

“It was a good little bit of preparation in seeing those things and a few harsh conversations with one another and staff. Being able to put that to bed was pleasing and preparation can start with a fresh mindset of getting the ball rolling.”

Players to watch

Outside back, Emiliano Boffelli embodies everything good about Los Pumas at the moment. The Edinburgh star showed his quality as he turned hero with a late try and conversion against Scotland to win the Test series. His skill set is complete with the ability to kick out of hand and at goal whilst showing quality with ball in hand and impressive composure. Expect the wing to be on song against the Wallabies, as his contributions will be vital to any Los Pumas’ success.

Passion and vigour are offered in boatloads by none other than Los Pumas captain Julian Montoya whose return is imperative for Cheika. The Premiership champion is the heartbeat of the Argentina pack, and he will need to draw on every ounce of leadership and experience in Mendoza. Montoya, in broken play, roams dangerously like a fourth loose forward, waiting for any opportunity to steal the ball on the ground. Expect the passionate captain to empty the tank before a boisterous home crowd.

Wearing 15 for the Wallabies this week is Tom Wright, who has had a tremendous year so far with the Brumbies and at Test level. The speedster’s ability to exploit space in the defensive line is exceptional, and with the extra room he will have from full-back, Wright could be a real danger on the counter. It is a clever move from Rennie to select the dangerous runner at full-back, and Argentina will need to have their wits about them when he has the ball in hand.

Elsewhere, scrum-half Nic White is arguably in the form of his life and will be essential for the Wallabies again on Saturday. The half-back’s cheeky nature could be just the thing needed to get under the skin of the passionate Argentina side. However, his distribution and decision-making will be even more important as he has been spot on for most of this season in that facet. In addition, White will need to be pin-point with his kicking to allow the Wallabies to control the game and prevent a Los Pumas charge.

Main head-to-head

Fly-half is one of the most critical positions on the field where clinical decision-making is absolutely paramount. The clash in Mendoza offers a battle of two flair-filled stars who look to impose their skill-sets on the game.

Los Pumas pivot Santiago Carreras is highly versatile and can play across almost the whole backline. However, Cheika has looked to him to control games and showcase his playmaking skills from 10. The Argentine showed impressive guile and nous on attack against Scotland, whether he was playing someone else into space or seizing the gap himself. Having played wing and full-back, Carreras has no problem backing his running ability and taking the ball to the line.

Quade Cooper will always be remembered for his flamboyant style of play and flair on attack, but the playmaker has shown maturity since returning to the Test scene. The Australian has not lost his will to attack but has found the ability to control games significantly better and, in turn, is a more complete fly-half.

The battle will be fascinating as Carreras needs to show maturity and game management of his own if he is to guide Los Pumas to a memorable victory. However, there is a calm aura around Cooper at the minute, and he knows how vital his contributions will be for the Wallabies as they search for a clean start to the Rugby Championship.

Prediction

Los Pumas have enjoyed a notable string of home games for the first time in recent memory and have grown with each minute. However, discipline is always a significant concern but they have shown improvement in that area in 2022. If Argentina can keep their noses clean, it will spell danger to this Wallabies side that has failed to produce a full 80-minute performance this year. It will be a gripping Test match that will go down to the wire, but Los Pumas will claim their first southern hemisphere scalp in the Cheika era. Argentina by three.

Previous results

2021: Australia won 32-17 on the Gold Coast
2021: Australia won 27-8 in Townsville
2020: Drawn 16-16 in Sydney
2020: Drawn 15-15 in Newcastle
2019: Australia won 16-10 in Brisbane
2018: Australia won 45-34 in Salta
2018: Argentina won 23-19 on the Gold Coast
2017: Australia won 37-20 in Mendoza

The teams

Argentina: 15 Juan Cruz Mallia, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Santiago Carreras, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Juan Martin Gonzalez, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 2 Julian Montoya (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Mayvo Vivas, 18 Joel Sclavi, 19 Santiago Grondona, 20 Rodrigo Bruni, 21 Lautaro Bazan Velez, 22 Tomas Albornoz, 23 Matias Moroni

Australia: 15 Tom Wright, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Len Ikitau, 12 Hunter Paisami, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Nic White, 8 Rob Valetini, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Jed Holloway, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Darcy Swain, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Lachlan Lonergan, 17 Matt Gibbon, 18 Taniela Tupou, 19 Nick Frost, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Pete Samu, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 Reece Hodge

Date: Saturday, August 6
Venue: Estadio Malvinas Argentinas, Mendoza
Kick-off: 16:10 local (20:10 BST, 19:10 GMT)
Referee: Mike Adamson (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Chris Busby (Ireland)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)

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